“All wish to possess knowledge, but few are willing to pay the price.”
During what has become known as the “Silver Age” of Latin literature, the Roman empire had its own blogger – a fellow named Decimus Junius Juvenalis – now known as Juvenal, a savage satirist who is thought to have pursued a career in the civil service before becoming disillusioned by the corruption and bureaucratic ineptitude he encountered in government.
He began writing scathing critiques of daily life in Rome, venting his indignation at the vices and often ludicrous nature of those who ascend to positions of high power – once telling the story of how the Emperor Domitian summoned his top advisors to solve the pressing conundrum of how to cook a fish too large for the pan. . .
From experience, I’m sure his friends were horrified by Juvenal’s odd quest to find his voice and speak the inconvenient truth of what goes on behind the political curtain – asking him in hushed tones:
“Juvy, what the hell are you doing, man? You’re pissing off the emperor and his wealthy friends with these goofy screeds of yours – now the peons in the streets are beginning to question the incestuous nature of the “system” – and that makes important people uneasy. I’m worried about you, bro. . .”
Of the many prescient quotes by Juvenal still in circulation today, such as, “Who will watch the watchers?” and “Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt” – my favorite is “Difficile est saturam non scribere”: It is difficult not to write satire.
Ain’t that the damn truth. . .
No one knows what ultimately became of Juvenal.
It is widely speculated that he was exiled by an angry Domitian, perhaps to Egypt, where he died penniless – others say he was recalled to Rome when Nerva became emperor.
As always happens when powerful people become offended, he was marginalized, painted as a shit stirrer, and paid a heavy price for going against the grain and speaking the truth as he saw it.
I think civic activists, true public servants, and anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of the happenings that effect our collective lives and livelihoods feel a strange kinship with ol’ Juvenal – especially during these dangerous and difficult times when the only constant is change.
Let’s face it, anyone who pays attention to the intrigues of local government cannot help but shake their heads at our current situation – watching what happens when our “Rich & Powerful” political elite get nervous – and the resulting turmoil and Machiavellian machinations that are the natural byproduct of a changing environment, where those who once held all the cards see their grip on power slipping away.
We saw this weird dynamic at play last week during longtime Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm’s last public meeting – a strange adoubement where very wealthy and influential insiders like His Royal Majesty and Lord of the Realm King J. Hyatt Brown, and our High Panjandrum of Political Power Mori Hossieni, elegantly rose from their reserved seats, approached their indebted subjects on the dais of power, and paid homage to the man who served their needs so well, for so long.
In my view, the spectacle was as telling as it was touching. . .
Apparently, Quanita “Call Me Commissioner!” May was moved to tears by the pageantry of it all – voice dramatically cracking with emotion, the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth that always accompany the demise of a long-held status quo.
Now, with the city’s new manager Deric Feacher on deck, there is an electric feeling of change in the air.
Trust me. The uncertainty of ‘what comes next’ is making the crème de la crème of our political aristocracy, both inside government and out, extremely anxious.
Not unexpectedly, we are seeing a similar struggle for control on the Volusia County Council following the rise to power of a populist “everyman” in Chairman Jeff Brower – a gentleman farmer who is proving to be as far from the archetype of the modern-day politician as one could imagine – as he struggles to keep promises and find solutions to intractable problems – seeking answers to questions that many of his “colleagues” would prefer to go unasked.
Is Mr. Brower making his share of mistakes?
You bet he is.
I suspect Chairman Brower is learning that politics is not unlike shoveling horseshit out of his barn – except the lives of real people often hang in the balance.
It is a prime example of why the learning curve for newly minted office holders is so steep – and horribly unforgiving – made infinitely more difficult when your detractors seize every opportunity to expose shortcomings, painting every misstep as another embarrassing faux pas or something more sinister.
I know about these things – pointing out, as Roosevelt said, “…how the strongman stumbled or the doer of deeds could have done them better,” has become my always sarcastic stock-in-trade. . .
Earlier this week, Chairman Brower put his foot in that fetid bucket of political dung (actually, he put both feet in and stomped around in it) when he attempted to broker a meeting between Sheriff Mike Chitwood and a Deltona couple who reports indicate made demonstrably false allegations against a Volusia County deputy.
In turn, Sheriff Chitwood called Chairman Brower’s entreaty “way off base” (because it was) and, in his own inimitable way, suggested those who tried to destroy a career law enforcement officer were “lying sacks of shit.”
Many were waiting with bated breath for me to take a side, lubricate whatever is left of my feeble mind with copious amounts of whiskey, and lambaste either Sheriff Chitwood, or Chairman Brower, with my usual snarky bluster.
Given that the career of a dedicated law enforcement officer hung in the balance – and the matter has rightfully been referred to the State Attorney’s Office for prosecution – I decided to step back and see how Mr. Brower responded to the natural perceptions his request fostered in the minds of his constituents who, though experience, have become leery of even the suggestion of meddling by elected officials before I weighed in.
In truth, my natural reaction was to rip Chairman Brower a new bunghole. . .
In a complete reversal of what we have come to expect from our ‘powers that be,’ rather than attempt to shield himself behind the modern practice of political “damage control” – Chairman Brower promptly appeared on WNDB’s Marc Bernier public affairs program and took responsibility for why he reached out to Sheriff Chitwood – then issued an open and heartfelt explanation to his constituents on social media.
I understand that Chairman Brower will also appear on WELE’s GovStuff Live! with Big John this week.
In my view, Sheriff Chitwood deserves our respect and appreciation for seeking justice for the deputy who was falsely accused – for standing firm to the core principles of his agency and protecting the foundational underpinnings of our system by prosecuting those who would attempt to destroy a good man’s life with baseless allegations.
In fact, I can think of few things more reprehensible than bearing false witness against a dedicated public servant charged with the safety and security of a public meeting in what appears to be some revolting attempt to make a cheap political statement.
In my view, Sheriff Chitwood’s aggressive response speaks to his leadership – and commitment to preserving the honor of those brave men and women who serve my family and yours with such dignity and courage.
After reading Chairman Brower’s explanation, it appears his motives were pure – and I commend his good instinct in taking the high road by detailing his motivations to the citizens of Volusia County.
In my view, by accepting personal responsibility and explaining his actions, Chairman Brower returns a sense of honor to his position – one that was tarnished long before Mr. Brower entered the arena – a seat of great responsibility that over the last few years lost any semblance of dignity, integrity, or respect for the public trust.
Clearly, Mr. Brower is beginning to understand that experiential learning in the fishbowl of public life is the most expensive education one can receive – and, as Juvenal said – he is paying an awfully heavy price for that important knowledge. . .